The man who ate Lincoln Rd likes his pizza to taste like pizza, which is to say I like it when it vaguely kind of tastes like cardboard. Pizza isn't a Michelin thing. Pizza isn't a work of art; pizza's a piece of cake. Really, pizza's the thinking man's cheese on toast.
Lincoln Rd boasts Hell and Pizza Hut as well as Sal's, and each has their own unique selling points, their own vibe. Hell does puns. Pizza Hut is old school. Sal's declares, in capitals: "AUTHENTIC NEW YORK PIZZA." But they all pretty much serve the same pizza.
That's a compliment. All three brands know what people like. They know that people want a kind of cardboard.
It'd make an interesting experiment to see whether you could tell the difference if you were blindfolded. I guess it's possible. Hell throw everything on their slices, so you'd be able to tell it's their stuff by the sheer abundance; also, their sauce has such a distinctive sickly sweetness to it that it often feels like you're gobbling down spoonfuls of jam.
Pizza Hut prides itself on its averageness. You'd know it was their stuff because you'd suddenly feel a desperate ennui, a lingering conviction that life was meaningless and so you may as well have another slice.
As for Sal's, you'd know it was their stuff because your fingers would be sauce-red. The fact is that Sal's goes for goo. Goo is what they do; they make a hullabaloo about their goo.
The back of their menu brags about its use of Vine Ripened California Tomatoes - note the self-important capitals barging their way in on three words where they don't belong - and blathers, "We've had the good fortune of being made privy to a legendary pizza maker's secret family recipe and have spent years perfecting Salvatore Leo's well-guarded pizza making techniques."
And then: "Our sweet tomato sauce is made fresh daily."
"Daily." Really? As in: every day? That seemed a remarkable claim as I sat in Sal's on Lincoln Rd and scoffed a $5 slice of pepperoni.
The goo drooled over the pizza onto the paper plate. It formed rivers, lakes, oceans of sauce. There was something ancient about it. It looked like a goo which had been around forever. A primordial sludge - did life on earth begin when some organism dragged itself out of Sal's sauce, and walked on dry ground?
I pondered the menu's claim of the daily goo as I gnawed on my pepperoni on cardboard. I always like eating at Sal's, and it's easy to see why they've become so successful - there are 10 franchises (nine in Auckland, one in Hamilton).
The goo is tasty. The bases are thin and elegant. The toppings are sensible. Their plush little booths are a nice touch; in the downtown Fort St franchise, they do actually make you feel like you're in a New York state of mind. Lincoln Rd, not so much. It looks like Route 66 out there or some interstate outside of like, maybe, Detroit.
But the suspense of whether or not the daily goo really was daily was killing me, and I approached the counter and said: "Is it true?"
"Yes," said the Chinese youth.
"It come every day in truck."
"In a truck?"
"In truck, yes."
"How many litres? Or is it in gallons?"
"Does it come in a bottle? Or a tub?"
"Like a tin of pen," he said.
"Pen," he said, and mimed waving a brush.
There you have it; the claim was true, the story stood up; every morning, all across Auckland to the nine Sal's franchises, and the one in Hamilton, a truck delivers the new goo, that fresh and tasty sludge, and the staff are on hand to paint it on. It works for me.
As a fast food, I rate pizza 10 out of 10 for speed and satisfaction; and I give Sal's pizza a reliable eight.
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•All views expressed are the author's.